Family naming traditions. Entry for Roots & Wings Historical Contest (Round 6).
|My family doesn't have many traditions to speak of, at least none that go back past the current generation or so. I have an uncle interested in genealogy as a hobby, but I've never really heard him tell any stories; his interests seem to be more about connecting the dots and seeing how far we can trace our family back than about really getting an in-depth understanding of any individual ancestors. Even so, there is one tradition on my father's side of the family that has endured for at least three generations that I know of; and I'm familiar with that tradition because I'm a part of it.
My middle name happens to be the same as my father's first name. My cousin's middle name is the same as his father's (my uncle's) first name. That uncle's (the oldest brother's) middle name is the same has his father's first name, and their father's (my grandfather's) middle name is the same as their father's first name. At some point, it became a tradition in our family for the first son to be given their father's first name as their middle name. Presumably, if our family were to continue the tradition, any first son born to me, my brother, or our two male cousins would be given our first names as their respective middle names.
The problem is, I'm a bit conflicted about this tradition.
First, I don't have any particular love for my given name. "Jeff" (or "Jeffrey" as my full legal name) certainly isn't a bad name or anything; it just doesn't inspire any particular affection for me. As someone who puts a great deal of thought into the importance of names for characters in his stories, I can't imagine I'd choose a name for my child that I didn't really like. After all, this will be a name he will carry around – and use it in public – for the entirety of his life! The idea of sticking my son with a name that I'm not wild about just seems a little silly, especially considering that it would comprise half of the entire number of names we're likely to give him. Not to mention that a middle name of "Jeffrey" would eliminate options for first names if they don't mesh well with "Jeffrey." (See? I told you I put a lot of thought into names!) So the fact that I don't have any particular love for my own first name gives us strike one against this practice.
Second, I can't be sure how far back the tradition goes. The first recorded incident of the phrase "middle name" was only back in 1835 and royalty and aristocracy have only been recorded as using middle names since the late 17th Century, so I have a hard time believing this is a family tradition we can trace back more than a handful of generations beyond those still living. I think it unlikely that discontinuing this tradition would disrupt a family practice that dates back to antiquity or anything. And we haven't found any royal blood in our family yet, so it may not even go back more than a generation or two past my grandfather.
While I think traditions are an important part of a family's heritage, I feel less obligation for a tradition that hasn't carried on for more than a few generations; especially one that could be broken so easily. Of my generation, only one of the four of us has had children, and they've both been girls. (No, he didn't give his firstborn daughter his male first name as a middle name.) Upholding a tradition that could literally be wiped out in this generation, or the next, or the next through sheer probability of not having any male sons – or the statistical likelihood of a son hating his name entirely – it seems like a risky tradition to put stock in. Especially since we're well past the point in our history where most families need or insist on a male heir, a limited-duration tradition that is statistically unable to endure makes for strike two.
Third, and most importantly, the reason I'm hesitant to insist on continuing this tradition is because my last name will be carried over for any of our children anyway. My father's family already has their mark on any of our children because they will all share the same last name. For better or worse, we still live in a mostly patriarchal society where the convention is for children to be named for their father's side of the family. Even in the case of my mom's sister, who kept her last name and thus has a different last name than her husband, her daughter bears her father's last name, not her mother's. It seems a bit presumptuous of me to assume that I have a claim on both the middle and last names of any firstborn son we may have. As my wife is of a different cultural background than myself, and someone with important family concerns of her own, it seems selfish to say, "Well, middle and last names are taken, so we just need figure out the first name together!"
My wife has mentioned that she feels strongly about two aspects of naming our children: she wants at least one of their names – first or middle – to be something at least partially-related to her own Mexican and Native American roots, and she would really like the names to honor her grandmother and grandfather who were as much a part of raising her as her actual parents. The only problem with the latter is that both names have already been taken as first names for a niece and nephew, so I think she's a little disappointed at being beaten to the punch!
Ultimately, even though I could rely on the tried-and-true "three strikes and you're out" logic, I think the third point is really the selling point for me. Unless my wife also wants to continue the tradition of assigning our firstborn son the same middle name as my first, we may not continue that particular convention if it means my wife has a better chance of seeing some of her cultural history and concerns reflected in the names of our children.
Maybe I'm just trying to make it seem like a less selfish reason for not using a name I don't like. Then again, it may all become a moot point if my wife and I don't have a son at all. Regardless, the one thing I do know is that when it comes to family traditions, things like middle names feel like they're less important in the long run than other traditions ... like the one my wife and I pushed for six years ago, which is an annual weekend trip for the entire family to get together. Up until that point, it would sometimes be several years between visits with extended family, and we really encouraged the family to make the effort to set aside time once a year to get together. Not everyone can make it every year, but most do, and we alternate the location between Northern and Southern California so the traveling is divided equally among family members living in different parts of the state. In a few short weeks, we'll be renting a house in Ojai, California and spending a three-day weekend together for the sixth year in a row.
Now that's the kind of tradition I wouldn't mind passing on to future generations.
Entry for "Roots & Wings Contest " (Round 6). Prompt: Prompt 1. Do you have a great romance or love story in your family history? Is there a great "how we met" story, or lost love found? Are there any love letters in your attic, and who wrote them? Let us hear it! Prompt 2: Names are important. Some people are named after celebrities or royals, others are named after characters in books, and many are named after family members. Tell us a story of how one name in your family tree came to be. Prompt 3: Open - Do you have a great story to tell? Give us your best family jewel. What is buried under the dust in your attic?